Seattle Mayor seeks almost $1 billion for transportation projects

SEATTLE - Nearly $1 billion.  That’s how much Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is asking voters to approve in new money for roads, bridges and sidewalks throughout the city.  The property tax hike is being proposed for this fall’s ballot.

At $930 million, it would be largest property tax levy in City history, by far, costing the average homeowner $277 a year for a whole decade.

“We’ve got to get transportation right if we are going to deal with the growth that has already happened in this City,” Murray said when he unveiled the plan a few weeks back.

On Tuesday night, dozens of people attended a City Hall hearing to express their views about the big package.

Faye Garneau, President of the Aurora Avenue Merchants Association, didn’t attend the hearing but she will tell lawmakers what she thinks about the package.  “It’s too much money,” Garneau said.  She worries about the effect on residents of several large city tax increases in recent years, including for parks, housing and education.  “Priced out,” she said.  “Priced out of their homes, priced out of just living in the city.”

The Mayor’s plan covers a wide range of projects, including:  repaving nearly 250 miles of worn out arterials; building 150 blocks of new sidewalks; creating 50 miles of protected bike lanes; and adding 7 Rapid Ride bus corridors, among other improvements.

Despite the levy’s historic size, Murray argues the backlog of need is several times as large as what he is asking for.  “I think we can justify it when we have a public that is saying we have waited too long and we need to do something.”

For Garneau, it’s time for the City to live within its means.  “They’re elected to use the money that we tax ourselves for wisely,” she said, “not to keep coming back for more. “

Lawmakers will be listening to public testimony and then they will decide how much to tweak the Mayor’s proposal, including whether to scale it back, before they take a vote to send it to the November ballot.

At least one Councilmember is skeptical of the size of the Mayor’s request.  Nick Lictata favors a property tax hike of $600 million, with the rest coming from a fee on developers and a commercial parking tax.